Net benefits

Rock stars go online to help Kosovar refugees and the poor.

Published April 30, 1999 12:00PM (EDT)

Watching ethnic Albanians stream out of Kosovo is an almost paralyzing experience. The distance, the television images and the quagmire of history and centuries-old conflict are so powerful that they've reduced even some pacifists to bloodthirsty hawks. The refugee situation would be even more of an international disaster if it weren't for relief organizations like the Red Cross and CARE, which is managing camps in Macedonia and Albania. Those organizations need support and funding to continue their work.

Whenever there's a need like that, an identifiable plight, the music world always responds the only way it knows how: with a benefit. In San Francisco, Act Now Productions and Zeitgeist Artist Management announced an MP3 album that will be distributed by GoodNoise, the online digital music service. (Act Now is the company started by Adam Werbach, the former president of the Sierra Club; Zeitgeist works with indie rock bands Creeper Lagoon, Beulah and Crumb.) So far, John Doe of X and jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter have made verbal commitments. Cracker, DJ Spooky, Mixmaster Mike and several others have expressed interest. When the album is finished, buyers will be able to buy one song at a time or the complete album at a reduced rate.

On a far larger scale, both financially and logistically, the organizers of Live Aid and Hands Across America announced a series of simultaneous benefits that will look beyond Kosovo and raise money to combat world poverty. According to the New York Times, the organizers have verbal commitments from U2, Sting, Lauryn Hill and Jewel, among others. The concerts, called Net Aid, will occur in Geneva, London and Giants Stadium in New Jersey, and will be simulcast live Oct. 9 on the Internet.

The two projects are vastly different, but they share an interesting similarity: The Net is at the center of both projects. The Net Aid organizers will take advantage of the depth that the online world allows and post information about relief organizations and ways that individuals, countries and corporations can help.

The CARE project is using the Web to speed the benefit process and forward the money that comes in to the refugees as quickly as possible. Because there are no brick-and-mortar distribution companies to pay, CARE will see the consumer dollars immediately. "If we were talking about a physical compact disc it would take months," says Zeitgeist manager Jordan Kurland. "With MP3 it's a matter of collecting the material and uploading it. The war is happening now and we want to get the money to CARE as soon as possible."

By Jeff Stark

Jeff Stark is the associate editor of Salon Arts and Entertainment.

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